COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Late in the second quarter of Maryland’s game with South Florida, Caleb Rowe overthrew Taivon Jacobs on a first down pass over the middle.
The redshirt junior quarterback Rowe and the redshirt freshman wide receiver were both making their first starts this season, a move to shakeup a moribund Maryland offense.
On his way back to the huddle, Jacobs showed the confidence Terrapin coaches wanted back in the team after last week’s loss to Bowling Green. Two plays later, it paid off. “He ran by me and said, ‘I’m still open,’” recalled Rowe. “I don’t think it was the read I was supposed to make but third down it’s a good time to take a chance on Taivon.”
The speedy Jacobs got a step on a defender and Rowe laid in an NFL Films quality pass on the dead run for a 70-yard score to break a 7-7 tie on Maryland’s way to a vital 35-17 victory before 36,827 at Byrd Stadium Sept. 19.
The Terrapins (2-1) would never trail again.
“I appreciate the effort that our players put forth this week in terms of preparing themselves to go out and get the win,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. “I saw a lot of guys do a lot of good things today, but there are still plenty of things that we can get better at, and we will.”
Despite completing 21-of-33 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns in his 2015 starting debut, Rowe also had three interceptions, two of which led to South Florida (1-2) scores, and made this game tighter than it should have been. And that’s a fair assessment because the Maryland defense, coming off that 692-yard, six touchdown pass, 48-point blistering last week, bounced back big, too.
The Terrapin defense racked up six sacks, 11 total tackles for loss, held the Bulls to 10-of-22 passing and gave up just 300 total yards despite USF playing catch-up the entire second half.
“We were poised, we just knew that we couldn’t lose two in a row,” said Davis who bounced back from a horrible afternoon last Saturday [Sept. 12] to record two interceptions, force a fumble and make nine tackles. “We didn’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves but we wanted to come out and play Maryland defense. That’s what we did.”
Roman Braglio had two sacks and Yannick Ngakoue had 1.5. The six quarterback traps were the most for Maryland since they had seven in the 2013 win at Virginia Tech. The 11 tackles for loss were the most since 13 of them at NC State that same season. It was the most at home since a 2011 meeting with Towson.
“Guys just did their jobs,” said Edsall of the defensive turnaround. “We still missed some tackles and missed a couple of things but some of those things don’t show up as much when you have guys running to the ball and doing the things they’re supposed to do.”
Terps Take Control
The Terrapins had a chance to take command of the game after a late first half score. Up 21-10 to open the third quarter, Ty Johnson took a short kickoff (the Bulls staying away from Will Likely) 45 yards to the USF 37. The Terrapins got a 15-yard penalty gain when the Bulls roughed Rowe. Rowe then hit Levern Jacobs for 11 yards, and three plays later found Avery Edwards in the back of the end zone with a perfect strike in tight coverage.
Levern Jacobs caught eight passes for 107 yards, matching a career high in receptions and registering his third 100-yard game receiving. Edwards would add three receptions for 36 yards and two scores, and D.J. Moore, also starting for the first time, had three grabs for 47 yards. Taivon Jacobs had two catches, 82 yards and the big 70-yard score.
Maryland led 28-10 at 13:15 of the third quarter, but the freshman tight end Edwards was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for spiking the ball, and the penalty on the kickoff set USF up in good field position. Rodney Adams had a 29-yard return and when nimble quarterback Quinton Flowers scrambled 10 yards, the Bulls were driving. A 34-yard scoring run by Marlon Mack was called back on a hold, though, and then Jesse Aniebonam got a third down sack and Braglio got one on fourth down to send the ball back over to the Terps at their own 40.
A facemask penalty got Maryland one first down and then Rowe hit Levern Jacobs on a screen for 13 yards on a third-and-11. The Terrapins were a much-improved 8-of-15 on third down conversions.
Two plays later, though, Rowe didn’t see hybrid DB/LB Jamie Byrd drop off his man and move in front of Jacobs and Byrd made an easy interception to keep USF in the game.
“Everybody wants to praise (Rowe) because of the stats,” said Edsall. “He did some good things out there, but as a quarterback, you can’t throw three picks. Those picks led to their points. Some of the things in the huddle were not as crisp as they needed to be. There’s still a whole lot of things he needs to do to be better.”
And suddenly South Florida was bullish again, driving 69 yards in 17 plays. Flowers hit Ryeshene Bronson for 17 yards early in the march but most of the yards were on the ground, including Flowers’ clutch, fourth-down 7-yard scramble and dive into the end zone at 48 seconds to make it 28-17.
Flowers was more effective on the ground (despite the six sacks) with 85 yards on 24 attempts. He was 10-of-19 passing for just 60 yards, and relieved temporarily late, though he came back.
“That quarterback is quick and we knew we had to keep him in the pocket,” said Braglio. “And that’s what we did. We took advantage of what we could. We thought we could win on the outside and the inside. It feels great to come back from a loss like (last week).”
Flags Fly, So Does Davis
The Terrapins couldn’t move the ball on the next possession and Nicolas Pritchard booted a 43-yard punt to the USF 15. A personal foul penalty negated a 23-yard Bulls pass beyond midfield, and then a roughing the passer call against Braglio gave USF a first down on a third-and-25.
It was part of particularly sloppy game, Maryland whistled 12 times for 120 yards in penalties and the Bulls seeing red after 10 penalties for 105 yards.
Three plays after Braglio’s hit, backup quarterback Steven Bench threw across the middle to Bronson and the high pass deflected off his hands to Davis, for his second interception of the day.
“I saw the ball was high so I didn’t want to break on it too downhill,” said Davis. “If he had caught it would have been a great catch. I slow-played it and just wish I had some more legs but I was cramping up. I just did the best that I could and gave the ball back to the offense.”
Davis lugged the ball back 33 yards to the 17-yard line, and two plays later on a bit of flimflam, Edwards broke wide open for an easy 22-yard touchdown from Rowe. Rowe looked right on what seemed a quick hitter then came to his left to find Edwards behind a defense that neglected to cover him. With 10:06 to play, Maryland led 35-17.
“We had been knifing them with all the tunnel screens,” said Edwards. “I think the DBs really bit on that and it was man coverage, too. It was a great call by Coach (Mike) Locks(Ley).”
As for the impromptu spike earlier after his first collegiate score, Edwards was honest, and as he was much of the afternoon, open. “I think I got caught up in the moment a little bit. I’m not really sure what I was thinking. I never spiked the ball before in my life. I think my second one, I showed Coach (Edsall) I definitely learned my lesson, and I found the referee (to give him the ball).”
“I didn’t know we were in the NFL,” deadpanned Edsall after the after of Edwards’ enthusiastic error.
Meanwhile, Rowe continued the streak of no Maryland quarterback being sacked this season. “It’s great, those guys really work hard in practice,” he said of the patchwork offensive line. “Coach (Greg) Studrawa does a good job of getting those guys ready and they all want to protect me.”
There’s obviously big upside in keeping Rowe horizontal because he can go vertical. His 297 yards passing were the most for a Maryland quarterback since he had 332 against Virginia on Oct. 12, 2013. His 225 passing yards in the first half were the most in a half since C.J. Brown had 237 against FIU on Aug. 31, 2013.
“I think it helps the balance,” said Rowe of throwing more downfield. “It helps the running backs and it helps the offensive line. I’m just doing my job. I’m expected to throw touchdowns. I’m expected to not throw interceptions. I just have to play better and be smarter with the football. I have to make better decisions and not force things.”
Rowe Rights Himself
Rowe started slowly early in the game. He missed an open Taivon Jacobs on his first throw and then disaster struck on his next toss, high to Levern Jacobs and intercepted by safety Devin Abraham, who carted it 42 yards down the right sideline, tackled by Jacobs at the 4-yard line to save a score. One play later, though, Flowers had a quick shuttle pass to Rodney Adams for the score at 12:40.
Rowe bounced back, hitting Moore for 28 yards on the next possession. On a third down, Rowe scrambled for nine yards, just short of a first down. He then found Moore on a slant for 10 yards on fourth down. Brandon Ross went seven yards to the one, and then Rowe rolled out and found fullback Kenneth Goins, Jr., for the 1-yard scoring pass to tie things up at 8:44.
“Our first two games we weren’t where we want to be and we definitely had something to prove,” said Edwards of the offense. “We took great steps today in the right path but we have a way to go.”
Safety A.J. Hendy came up quickly and made a big hit on Adams for a one-yard loss on a third down on USF’s next possession to force a punt. The Terps drove the ball put a holding penalty on Levern Jacobs took away a 23-yard Ross run deep into Bull territory and the Terrapins ended up with Brad Craddock pooch-punting to the USF 17.
The Maryland defense got a three-and-out, and almost a bigger play when Davis forced a fumble that Adams recovered for the Bulls.
Rowe made his best throw of the season when Maryland got the ball back. On a third-and-nine, he hit Taivon Jacobs in perfect stride down the right sideline for that 70-yard touchdown on the final play of the first quarter to make it 14-7.
A play after going off the field after a hit, Davis was back and made a great interception on a deep pass to give the ball back to the Terps at the 29. Maryland was moving the ball again when a fumbled snap and illegal motion penalty stalled the march at midfield. Rowe uncorked an ill-advised throw under duress and Deatrick Nichols intercepted.
On the tackle that play, Wes Brown was whistled for targeting with a helmet-to-helmet hit that moved the ball to the 43-yard line, and Brown was ejected from the contest. The Terps caught a break, though, when Adams had Flowers’ long, sure-touchdown pass slip between his arms. Davis and safety Anthony Nixon messed up a coverage to leave Adams all alone, but the drop was perhaps karma for last week’s rough afternoon in the secondary.
The Bulls would regret not taking advantage of their rare opportunity.
Maryland moved the ball to the USF 39, and was set to go for it on fourth-and-two, but a false start penalty on right guard Mike Minter cost the Terps that chance, something Edsall hinted after the game might have been Rowe’s fault in making changes at the line.
The Bulls, who hadn’t had a first down since midway in the first quarter, finally got their offense back in gear, driving 64 yards in 12 plays to cash in on Emilio Nadelman’s 34-yard field goal to make it 14-10 with 59 seconds left in the half.
Maryland had to be disappointed after doubling yardage on the Bulls but the Terrapins got a big play when Rowe bought time in the pocket and hit Levern Jacobs with a 49-yard strike to the 2-yard line with 15 seconds remaining.
It was part of a big 411-yard day for the offense.
After Rowe stopped the clock with an incomplete pass, Maryland ran an option but Rowe’s pitch to Ross was fumbled before Ross scooped it up, cut back to the middle and scored with 10 seconds left for a 21-10 lead. Maryland outgained USF 317-133 in the first half.
Ross finished with 68 yards on 18 carries, and Johnson, showing some explosiveness, was good for 30 yards on 10 carries. The Terps rushed for 114 yards, and were three-for-three in the red zone on their scoring opportunities.
“We knew going into this week that we couldn’t let last week effect us,” said Levern Jacobs. “We went in with the mindset that we couldn’t be denied. Caleb and the whole offense did a great job of that.”
The Terrapins certainly don’t have much time to pat themselves on the back, though. The first 2015 road test looms Sept. 26 at West Virginia, and sets up a brutal stretch of games that continues with Michigan at home Oct. 3, at Ohio State Oct. 10, a week off then Penn State in Baltimore, at Iowa, home to Wisconsin and at Michigan State.